Friday, March 19, 2010

Better Living by Design?

I had a conversation with an engineer from another Carribean country yesterday about future plans for permanent housing here in Haiti. The generally accepted practice here is to start building a simple dwelling and add on to it over time as your budget and time allows. This makes perfect sense to the average family here but if the materials and structure design aren't sound you may end up with a house of cards ready to topple in the future.

This topic has been covered extensively in various places so let's skip ahead to the relevant part here. Our organization's plans for permanent homes would incorporate better design and materials but we also plan to encourage incremental building (horizontally, not vertically). We would build in areas affected by the earthquake that would be much less dense than Port-au-Prince so there would potentially be less need for multi-story residential housing.

On the other hand this does involve an artificial limit on what families may decide to do in the future. Our volunteer engineer would point out that for an additional cost we could design homes that could better handle additional stories. But is cost the only issue here? I would say no. The NGOs that will be here for the long-term rebuilding effort will have to draw a line at some point in order to balance the (estimated) desires of one family versus the overall need for permanent housing solutions. It is a hard decision to make. There needs to be some government influence in this as well (i.e. building codes and zoning hopefully.) 

Would you spend more to give some families additional flexibility or spread the opportunity at simple, decent homes to some more families? Feel free to post your comments below.

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